Take Me With U (Minneapolis, July 22-23, 2018)

Of course we nerded out and blasted Prince as we entered the Minneapolis highway tangle! I do love me some Replacement, some Dü, and even some Suburbs (!), but in our vehicle there was never any question. We’d also damn near finished the Erdrich book, which unsurprisingly takes place mostly in Minneapolis, where she resides and runs a bookstore. We were too tapped out to visit it, plus we’d already bought at least 10 books while on the road.

We stayed at the Hewing Hotel. If we can afford them, we like to try interesting lodging, and the Hewing is that. Too much on the posh side of interesting, I’d say: severe valet charge, extra charge just to access the rooftop bar, hot tub, and spa (which guarantees the people up there won’t be that interesting), pet-friendly around the bar and dining area (we have five, but come on). When I scoffed as the concierge informed us of the rooftop charge, she folded and gave us free access (Camus: “There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.”), so we scoped it out. Here we are shortly after I’d had an absurd argument with a bartender about a sliding glass door:

Next morning, though, we zipped out to Paisley Park. I’d read plenty that might dissuade one from paying the $55 “general level” admission–wait, is it here or in England where one always knows one’s place?–but turns out it was a pretty enjoyable and emotional experience. Pics are not allowed–

and I don’t want to spoil your potential future trip, but you might not know it’s His burial site, it’s got a goodly amount of famous items you’d want to see, he lived there for at least the last couple of years (by the way, it’s as cool as Graceland in its way), and (though I’ve heard it didn’t start this way) the tour guides know their stuff–though don’t assume Prince would have wanted it this way. Exit through the gift shop you will: I picked up some Prince guitar picks for one of my favorite former students, Nicole purchased a loverly scarf, and, being a teacher, I had to have a Purple Rain coffee mug.

Then, it was off to Lake Minnetonka, where we were denied much-needed purification (16 days on the road) by a teenage lifeguard and a more public body of water than I’d imagined.

Finally, we tracked down the Purple Rain house, which Prince bought shortly before he passed. It needs a little work, but it, too, brought an emotional ripple as we recalled the partly-autobiographical scenes that were shot there:

After a nap, we wended our way to Salsa Ala Salsa, where we met some serious rock and roll friends (Billy, Darren, and Julie) for excellent margaritas, sangria, and tamales. I kid you not–we have rock and roll friends in every city!

Alas, we awakened the next morning realizing our final eight hours of driving were ahead of us. A few things about that last stretch:

Erdrich’s The Future Home of the Living God is pretty worthy. If you can imagine her already formidable talents under the sway of Atwood and confronting the darkness of Drumpf, that’s pretty much what it is. She has a bit of trouble shaking loose in the middle section, but I have to say it’s one of the best literary accounts of a pregnancy I’ve read (the book’s written in epistolary form to the narrator’s future kid). 4.3/5.

When in Des Moines, jump off the highway to Alohana Hawaiian Grill for some loco moco or spam musumi! Delicious!

I can’t say enough about the indefatigable research that the participants in Season Two of the In the Dark podcast put into the case of Curtis Flowers. Please check out the 11-episode story, especially if you think the justice system works….

If you’re driving from Minneapolis to Columbia, Missouri, you can trust your GPS, but the fastest route will not seem that way!

Finally, thanks for reading and I encourage you to road trip with your loved ones to see your loved ones. Load up the mp3 player to save on data, download some podcasts and audiobooks, gas up the tank, and head for the hills–I have to say that after 5,000-plus miles and sixteen days, I got a little choked up when I turned to meet my driver’s eyes. In particular, consider the Northwest–the beauty of the landscape seems to roll out infinitely.

Dimension Seven (July 17-22, 2018 / Victoria, Seattle, Bozeman,Wall, Minneapolis)

Been too busy to blog–good thing on vacation, eh?–and when in the car (35 hours of driving last three days) we’ve been audiobooking, podcasting, and rocking out! When I have had time? I’m telling you, the Internet ain’t made it to the upper left quadrant, people. So–a quick recap. This is s’posed to be a music blog, so it’ll have, um, hints of that.

Victoria, British Columbia

I had never planted my feet on foreign soil, so I was just thrilled to be in the most British Canadian city. Music played very little part. I visited the Fan Tan Alley shop Turntable, where the proprietor seemed stuck in the Sixties but I did find the above record. Didn’t buy it–$50, and the sleeve was about cashed–but it’s a good ‘un. I also trekked up Fort Street to Ditch’s and snagged a previously rare Sam Rivers ECM and a neat Dick Hyman Fats Waller tribute which he played into a Bosendorfer machine (for what that’s worth). The night before we left, I was forced to witness the current version of Lynyrd Skynyrd playing live (on TV only, thankfully) at a pub where the Old Fashioneds were too good for me to get up and leave (Bartholomew’s).

Other highlights:

Butchart Gardens, a beautiful botanical display. (See previous entry.)

My first real dish of Ramen.

Russell’s, a used bookstore so overwhelming I couldn’t buy anything.

A primer on an interesting facet of the Canadian health system.

We hiked all over its spread–I’d estimate 12-15 miles–notably about five clicks out to its east breakers:

We walked through the Empress Hotel a couple times, but they didn’t have low tea.

We weaved through Fisherman’s Wharf.

I really got used to seagulls outside my bedroom window.

…and before jumping back on the Clipper back to Seattle, we had time to pop into the Odean Theater for a screening of Sorry To Bother You, which, as much as I love Boots Riley, graded out to about a B/B+–it needed a little more juice, I thought.

 

 

Return to Seattle

Again, music didn’t figure much into our brief return visit to Seattle (I played country music classics during our time in the highly-recommended Mediterranean Inn), but being with our Seattle friends is rock and roll! They operate spontaneously and delightfully. Our dear long-time friend Frank–he and I used to write collaborative punk 45 assessments for The Banks and Bibles Revue–led us on a marvelous foot tour of downtown Seattle.

The Echo Statue:

A skywalk:

Seagull feeding (I tell ya, I love them birds):

The Gumwall:

Smith Tower, bottom…

…to top:

And finally a Lyft out to Ha! in Fremont to reunite with the whole gang, toast everything good, and go listen to garage 45s at some old vintage lounge. It was hard to leave.

 

 

Bozeman, Montana

We blasted Hendrix again all the way out of Washington, and after being diverted from I-90 by a brush fire, we found ourselves at Wild Horses National Monument with a wonderful vista.

Bozeman was not scintillating, but we arrived in time to find decent food–locally-raised bison, anyone?–and great cocktails at Ted’s Lounge, which also is the only restaurant I’ve ever visited that has played The Gilded Palace of Sin on their sound system. I must say, though, that the mountainous beauty of this part of the country makes an 11-hour drive pretty damned pleasant. New audiobook: Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God.

On our next leg, through Wyoming and into South Dakota, we visited Little Big Horn, where apparently we’re still trying to see Custer as a hero, or at the very least worth memorializing, but far more riveting was Devil’s Tower. We’d been blasting Nirvana (I find their music’s aged very well and is indisputably great–just like Jimi’s), and we’ve been shooting a 20-second highway video every 100 miles, so I had a corny inspiration:

 

 

Wall, South Dakota, and The Beauteous Badlands

We’d been to The Badlands before, and they are a must. If you go, stay at Frontier Cabins and request a meadow view. It was too dark upon our arrival and too foggy upon our departure for me to snap a good pic, but here’s an interior.

We got up early to drive through the park on our way to Minneapolis. We blasted punk rock (Minutemen, Roky, Minor Threat), were stunned again by the views, and dropped some cash for a stack of books to express our love for the National Parks Service (Black Elk Speaks, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and Crazy Horse: Strange Man of the Oglalas). Here’s a selfie with my beautiful one.

On the way to our next stop, I had an Indian Taco (made with fry bread) at Al’s Oasis. I thought you should know. We continued listening to the infuriating podcast In the Dark (infuriating due to the miscarriage of justice it explores–Mississippi, goddam!!!), Erdrich’s fascinating if flawed new novel, and, of course, blasted Prince all the way into Minneapolis, where we’ve never been.

 

 

Minneapolis (just dropped in)

Today: Paisley Park, Louise Erdrich’s bookstore, and dinner and drinks with friends.

A Great Big Clipper Ship (June 13-16, 2018, Mt. Rainier/Seattle/Victoria BC)

13th: Reluctantly left Portland for Mt. Rainier State Park. Thrilling, and for the traveler we do recommend an annual parks pass!

Ain’t no quick way from that park to Seattle, so we jammed Local Boy Jimi all the way in, and it was a balm. I included this neat item in the playlist–you have to lean forward a bit:

Seattle: so many great things to do, but for us the greatest thing is boon companions. Jill (who offered us a bed): smart, hilarious, endlessly boisterous, and a heart as big as an ocean; Rex, our fellow Missourian who was also visiting: ace poem picker, situation-parser, spokesman for the public; Beth, my best friend since we were 18 at the University of Arkansas: a perfectly dangerous big-sister type with a subversive sense of humor and a heart as big as the ocean Jill’s heart is as big as; and Angela and Frank, whose amazing kiddo Cecilia is our kinda-godkid: joined in unholy matrimony, in amazing parenting, and staying young as their relationship grows older (no sin, no easy road). We all know each other well, to some extent accidentally, and when we converge the laughter peals, the suggestions alarm, the drink overtops the sandbars, pizza is the only necessary fuel, and the music ain’t no didgeridoo solo! Here’s a pic from shortly after our arrival:

Deep into the night, we plotted and planned, punched free selections into Jill’s ’70s-dominated jukebox (in her living room!), and tried to solve the world’s problems.

Yeah, that was just the 13th.

14th: Road trip! A 12-hour one! It’s easy when Jill’s got her van rocking out to classic garage rock!

Out to Deception Pass (it’s historic, but that name doesn’t bode well) for hiking, low-tide discoveries, arguments about didgeridoos (Nicole: “Didgeridon’t–unless you’re an aboriginal musician!”), facing up to fear of heights on the bridge over Dire Straits (yeah–it’s real), and miscommunicating over our splintered wanderings.

On the way back to Seattle, we waited hours at The Shrimp Shack for Dungenness Crab Burgers that were worth it, visited Ebey’s Beach and resurrected the didgeridoo theme thanks to Rex’s discovery (see video below), and got harassed by The Vanloads of Christian Athletes while waiting for the ferry. Arriving back at Jill’s, we honky-tonked into the night though I was out on my feet.

15th: You’d think we’d have to recover, but we were down at Pike’s Place Market with Frank and Angela, eating the best macaroons ever created at Le Panier, hoofing it over to meet the rest of the bunch at the Museum of Pop Culture–

–brunch Bloodies and great Hendrix and Nirvana exhibits–plus a fun “scream recording” in the horror exhibit that Nicole, Beth, and I tried), railing it to Chinatown for Dragonfest, King Noodle, and orgasmic origami, hopping in Jill’s van again for a foray to Hendrix’s grave–

–and to one of the best dive bars I’ve ever bellied up to, Darrell’s:

Along the way, Rex, Nicole, Beth, Jill and I envisioned a Seattle “underground history tourism” service that would have made Larry Flynt blanch. Dry eyes were not to be found. Much thanks to Darrell’s jukebox for this:

We continued some beer-drankin’ at Jill’s after, but the dawn would beckon Nicole and me at 5 the next morning…

16th: We took the Victoria Clipper over to Victoria BC–my first-ever trip outside the U.S.

We immediately took a bus out to Butchart Gardens and beheld much flowery glory–sorry, not too rock and roll, but it was indeed glorious.

I’m sipping a Molson’s in our room at the Victoria Regent, knowing what it sounds like when gulls cry. Tomorrow: a music injection from Turntable or Ditch’s? Or a lit re-up from Munro’s Books? We shall see. Off to Ferris’ Upstairs Seafood and Oysters…

O My Stars (June 11th-June 13th, 2018, Portland, Oregon)

Began Wednesday morning with a drive out to Multnomah Falls, east of Portland. Ravishing. Plus we got in some good climbing. We also drove down to the banks of the Columbia River to appreciate that behemoth more thoroughly. By the way, we’ve been listening to Season 2 of the In the Dark podcast, the gripping quality of such does make time fly when you’re in the car. The host drives me bats, though.

Once back in Portland, we drove through the downtown chaos, dined at the terrific Thai Peacock (hella dranks, too), then arrived at the shrine: Powell’s City of Books! My word–it is the book nerd’s Mecca. Of course, there is shopping porn:

Then, we headed out to Forest Park and St. John’s Bridge to explore (vehicularly, only) some of the terrain in Peter Rock’s great novel My Abandonmemt:

What about the music, you say? Well, some dude from Sunny Day Real Estate played about 25 feet from our hotel room (Doug Fir is the venue–seems connected to The Jupiter), but we looked askance and chilled in the evening to a cavalcade of hardcore honky tonk.

However, Thursday morning, driving west to Cannon Beach (my first ever view of the Pacific), we cranked up a “First Nations” playlist featuring the mightily missed John Trudell, the underrated A Tribe Called Red, the unmistakable Tanya Tagaq (Nicole survived four of her songs!), Martha Redbone, and assorted others.

I strongly suggest you visit Cannon Beach and The Haystacks. Also, Thomas is a cool server from Festus, Missouri, who works at Pelican Brewery: he’ll have great advice and knows his beers!

Later in the evening, speaking of My Abandonment, we visited Cinema 21 on 21st Street to take in Deb Granik’s film that was inspired by that book, Leave No Trace.

The film was shot in and around Portland, so it was neat to watch it with a local audience. It’s strong–Granik also directed Winter’s Bone, and she clearly has a gift for locations and directing young women. Surprise musical cameo appearance by Ol’ Snock (not this song, though):

Today: Mt. Rainier–and dear friends in Seattle!

In the Open (Sunday, June 8th – Wednesday June 11th, 2018, Missouri to Oregon)

Starting about 5 in the morning Sunday, we’ve been on the road to Seattle to visit some fond friends. We’ve crossed Kansas, landed in Denver (they have candy!), cut up through Wyoming to Yellowstone, cut across a corner of Montana then down and over through Idaho (no easy way to Portland!), and finally, here at rest in the funky Jupiter Hotel on Burnside in Rip City. Just walked over the bridge to Voodoo Doughnuts (they’ve put out two live Dead Moon albums, at least), beheld the city’s grappling with the teeming homeless and mentally unsound population, and are prepping for a nature outing and a Powell’s visit. Yesterday was a 14.5-hour drive, we got in at 10 and hit the bar, now it is go time!

We have “read” two books thus far on the trip: Tommy Orange’s promising, scathing There There* and the late Anthony Bourdain’s wild and eye-opening Kitchen Confidential (it took his death to finally motivate us to read it, sadly). Thus, little music so far. But…some:

We kicked off the trip with the above Freddie King masterwork.

Later, I forgot how great this song was:

In a Denver hotel after enjoying candy apple suckers from Totally Heavenly Candy out on the streets–

–we grooved lazily to Lady:

Driving up through Tetons Park to Yellowstone–

–we were reminded again of the ever-rewarding joys of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys’ Tiffany Transcriptions (special attention to doomed guitarist Junior Bernard and magic fiddler Joe Holley):

Two old faithfuls confronted THE Old Faithful and felt joy of their own–

Then we struggled to escape Yellowstone–

–and get some momentum behind us, behind the music of a friend from Eng-uh-land (with help from his and our friend from Columbus, Ohio):

Couldn’t get these songs out of my head cutting across Oregon:

I may be back tomorry, or it may be awhile! If I’m livin’ right, it may be awhile, with Seattle and Victoria BC in the offing!

*One of the key characters in Orange’s book has a therapeutic relationship with MF Doom’s music. The page on which that’s captured is pretty insightful.

Pair of Threes (July 7th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Pair of three from Louisiana this morning:

The great Bechet’s intense vibrato and thrilling, surprising upward swings on soprano sound almost avant-garde to my ear. He played pretty masterfully from the beginning of his career to the end; today, I concentrated on his Blue Note recordings (mostly 1940s sides), a reliable place to start for a beginner.

Louisiana’s most ferociously skilled and (one of its) longest-lasting Cajun groups knocked it out of the part with the fairly recent Carencro. Besides their usual solid originals en Francais, they take James Brown, John Coltrane, and Fred McDowell to the swamp. Never underestimate the Brothers Doucet–they can play any damn thing and swing you.

It’s hard to imagine any trumpeter getting within spitting distance of Louis Armstrong’s shining sound, vivacity, and invention–even in the Crescent City. Red Allen of Algiers was one of a few, however, who could, and he wasn’t a bad singer, either. These days, he’s overshadowed, but he enjoyed a solid career into the early ’60s. Here’s where it starts.

Pair of three kinda-sorta “outside” jazz albums this afternoon:

Nicole and I have been fortunate to see one of the great jazz father-and-son teams in person, though not playing together as they do here. Stereo-separated for aural convenience, the two Chicago tenors converse and “reason” (as a Rasta might say), Papa Von sounding just like an eccentric but leagues-wise elder in the left channel, sonny boy Chico in the right blowing open the barn doors like the young turk he was at the time–but able to shut and lock them tight with skill, finesse, and economy, too. Rhythm section’s crack as well.

I went through a Blythe binge not long ago when he passed from this life; I’m back on another thanks to reading of his Watts exploits in service to Horace Tapscott’s Arkestra in the excellent The Dark Tree. The above track is the only one on the abso-fab Lenox Avenue Breakdown during which guitarist James Blood Ulmer’s turned loose–it’s also the only track that’s fully out–but Black Arthur’s piercing, driving, yet lyrical alto remains the main attraction.

Hill’s another player who crossed paths with, and likely was encouraged, if not influenced, by Tapscott. This record’s challenging, even jittery (if that makes sense), the leader and band are in top form, and here’s one of very few chances to hear (Sun Ra) Arkestra star John Gilmore blow his horn in another context.

Hooked (July 6th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

John Lee Hooker. 1948-1951. Stripped down. Foot poundin’. Guitar plonking out a trance-line, then exploding into foreign, menacing noise. Whether they’re lines straight out of his head or he’s repurposing something he’s just heard on the radio, he stamps ’em with his late-night lonely moanin’ sound. Across these tracks, he already sounds old as the Mississippi–his recording career was just getting started, but he was already in his thirties.

Four discs, 100 tracks, played consecutively today and not a bored moment in my ear or brain, and that’s considering the man had three-four structural and rhythmic moves that he preferred to use repeatedly.

To cease with the waxin’ not particularly poetical, if you do happen to be looking for a way in to the world of John Lee Hooker, and you’re into buying material goods, the above set from JSP–the notes aren’t great, but the sound is stellar–will run you around $10 and it’s loaded with goodies: the original and often superior versions of Hooker masterpieces like “Crawling King Snake,” “Boogie Chillen,” “Sally Mae,” “Burnin’ Hell,” “Hobo Blues,” “House Rent Boogie,” and “I’m in the Mood,” plus great rarities like “No Mortgage on My Soul,” “Streets is Filled with Women,” and “Stomp Boogie.” The format is usually John Lee alone, and his stomping foot is miked up high. Maybe you don’t need all four discs, but every American home ought to contain a selection from this period of the artist’s life. On that note, enjoy the video (from about 15 years later):

Note: Living to Listen is hittin’ the fuckin’ road for 16 days starting just before dawn tomorrow. I may not be posting daily, but then again, last time I tried to stop I couldn’t. We’ll be traveling close to 5,000 miles by jalopy, so it might be reports from the road-trip playlist. But we’re listening to books, too, so it may not. Stay tuned!